TV World in Tuas sees lights, cameras and action again

It's a step back in time.

For a visitor, it's a step into the Singapore of the 1950s.

But for some of the actors and TV people there, it is also a step back into the 90s, when they last filmed there.

After almost a decade, TV World in Tuas is seeing lights, camera and action again.

Once the jewel of our local dramas, TV World, which is about the size of four football fields, was the equivalent of the film lots of Hollywood.

Created to look like the bustling Singapore of the 1950s, it has three main streets that lead to structures that look like a three-storey cinema, a railway station, a fire station, a city hall, a church, several mansions and rows of Chinese shophouses.

In the 90s, the Television Corporation Of Singapore (TCS, now MediaCorp) filmed memorable period dramas there.

These included Strange Encounters 3, Tofu Street, The Price Of Peace, Wok Of Life and Hainan Kopi Tales.

About 10 years ago, the company gave up the area, which is next to the Tuas checkpoint.

Then last month, MediaCorp returned to TV World to film Channel 8's 30th anniversary period drama, Joys Of Life.

The series, which stars Chen Liping, Zheng Geping, Rui En, Huang Wenyong, Chew Chor Meng and Taiwanese artistes Alien Huang and Cynthia Wang, will start airing in June.

The drama is also filmed in a MediaCorp studio and on a re-created street in the company's Caldecott Hill compound.

Chew, who has filmed some 10 dramas at TV World since its opening in 1991, told The New Paper in an on-set interview last Sunday that he has many fond memories of the place.

The 43-year-old actor had brought his wife and two daughters, aged eight and 10, along that day so he could show them where he used to work and what Singapore used to look like.

"There's a river at the back of the compound where we fished when we had free time in between filming," Chew said.

"There was also a Malay kampung set and a street from Chinese period costume dramas. It's now just a big green field...

"(The area) should be conserved. The building structures are very good, and it's a waste if we don't film here any more. This is a part of Singapore drama history and a collective memory for actors of my era...

"It's quite sad and a pity that the buildings are now labelled Briefing House, Block A and so on."

Police training

A police spokesman told The New Paper that the area is now called Tactical Training Village and is used by specialist forces in the police for training purposes.

When The New Paper was there on Sunday, some buildings were cordoned off with tape.

The streets in TV World now have real street names such as Cluny Street and Queen Street.

Chew said the TCS props department once built the interior of a plane in TV World because no one was willing to rent them a real aircraft for filming.

He couldn't remember which show that was for.

Chew and veteran actress Lin Meijiao also recalled another time when almost the entire cohort of TCS artistes stood on the steps of the city hall in TV World to film a trailer.

It was such a grand affair, they said.

Added Chew: "I love this place because it's easy to get into the mood of a period drama with these retro buildings. You can't find such places in Singapore any more. But I also hate this place because it's so far away."

TV World was open to the public for some time in the 1990s, Chew said.

MediaCorp referred TNP to speak to Madam Winnie Wong, the executive producer of Joys Of Life.

She said that she liaised with the police for about two months to obtain permission to film in TV World.

The film crew could not enter certain buildings in a restricted area.

Only two streets and the cinema have been used for filming the drama.

And because of the police training, the crew can film there only about eight days a month, usually during weekends.

Wong, who has worked in showbiz for 30 years, said she wanted to film at TV World because she wanted the drama to be a nostalgic trip down memory lane for the actors, crew and audience.

Also, the period sets that MediaCorp has are of the 1930s and 1940s, but Joys Of Life is set in the 1950s and 1960s.

"Previous period dramas like Together and The Little Nyonya were filmed in Malacca and Penang, and the audience has seen those buildings before. There's no surprise there for them," Wong added.

"Some of the buildings in Malaysia are also either too run-down or too modernised. We have to avoid filming tall buildings and electricity poles.

"The veteran artistes and crew were filled with emotions when they re-entered TV World. I think the audience will feel the same when they see TV World on screen."

Wong said MediaCorp only had to replace the doors, windows and business signs along two streets in TV World.

She doesn't know the exact cost, but said it was not a big sum and definitely worth the money.

She's not certain if MediaCorp was asked to vacate the premises a decade ago because it was too near the Tuas checkpoint.

What she understands is that MediaCorp cut down drastically on producing period dramas locally after the 1990s.

From filming more than four period dramas annually in the 1980s and 1990s, only one was filmed a year in the 2000s. They were instead filmed in China.

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